Anyone who has ever read this column (or even just its title) knows Taylor Swift is my favorite singer. But eight years before I discovered her I was obsessed with someone else.
Any guesses as to which pop goddess a child of the ’90s would idolize? That’s right. It’s Britney, bitch.
Britney Spears’ iconic second album, “Oops! … I Did It Again,” came out two weeks before my eighth birthday in May 2000 and it was the first CD I ever bought. I took my birthday money, hopped in the back of my parents’ car, and had them drive me half an hour to the nearest Walmart. I still remember admiring it on the drive home, completely mesmerized by Spears and her exposed midriff staring at me through that beaded curtain.
To me, Spears was powerful, and I, for having purchased her work with my own money, felt powerful, too.
Growing up, I was always drawn to the teenage girls I saw on TV and in magazines. People who were confident like Spears, or defined their own style like Mary-Kate and Ashley, or were relatable and down-to-earth like Hilary Duff, were everything to me. They gave me ideas of who I could be as I muddled my way through awkwardness and insecurity.
As I got a little older, I fell in love with the Disney darlings: Miley, Demi, and Selena. They were cool, funny, and I felt like I could be best friends with all of them. And at around 15 or 16 Swift entered my life, making herself a permanent fixture. It was at this same time that Spears had her “breakdown.”
The word “crazy” was thrown around like candy when the paparazzi pictures of Spears went viral. Mental health issues and substance abuse disorders were fodder for the masses with young female celebs. Lindsay Lohan and Amanda Bynes, both of whom I was obsessed with, were turned into punchlines for their struggles.
As the years went on, I saw the world turn on all the girls I loved. Mary-Kate Olsen was gawked at and made fun of for being underweight. At the same time, other girls were being shamed for not being a size two. When Miley Cyrus started showing more skin, she was suddenly a slut – even though the press had been discussing whether she was a virgin starting when she was only 14, as if that was at all appropriate.
And I can’t talk about slut-shaming without talking about Swift, who in her own words, became “a national lightning rod for slut-shaming.” She has been taunted by the media, and the public, for years because: she has dated people? I’m sorry, but literally, every musician writes about their relationships.
Since the “Framing Britney Spears” documentary was released on Hulu earlier this month, a lot of people have been calling out the media for its treatment of Spears, and of other starlets, over the years. The old interview clips are disturbing and uncomfortable to watch and are made even worse by the fact that no one made it stop.
The thing is, the way the media talked about these celebrities became how the public talked about them. Not only were the celebrities hurt by this, but I and other fans were, too. And it’s not just because I was being defensive or protective. I was seeing the girls who were everything I wanted to be being shamed for everything they were. As the people around me parroted what the media said, I learned that I couldn’t talk about my struggles and I couldn’t gain too much weight and I couldn’t wear certain clothes and I couldn’t tell the truth.
But I have hope. I still love all these girls I loved growing up. I’ve seen them all grow through everything that’s been thrown at them and learn to own who they are, without shame. They’ve shown me, and countless others who grew up watching them, how to do the same.
Swift, who is rerecording her first six albums so she can own the new masters, released “Love Story (Taylor’s Version)” last week, with the full “Fearless (Taylor’s version)” album coming in April. Admittedly, I was on the fence when she announced her intention to rerecord the music. I love the originals so much and “Fearless,” released in 2008, is when I fell in love with her.
But, with the release of the new “Love Story,” I’m so excited for what’s to come. Not only will Swift finally own her work, but she’ll own, and be in full control of her narrative, which is something she never got to do the first time around.
I hope Spears is next.
Kate Gardner is a Portland-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, Teen Vogue, SELF, and Bustle. You can follow her on Twitter @katevgardner.